Snoring: The Good, the Bad, and the Loud

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If you don’t believe that snoring causes sleep loss, then you’ve probably never had to sleep in the same room as someone who snores. Few things are as detrimental to a good night’s sleep as a partner who sounds like they’re running a chain saw on the other side of the bed.


Doctors estimate that at some time in their lives, up to 50 percent of all people snore, some regularly and some intermittently. As troubling as it is to be on the receiving end, snoring can cause sleep disturbances and health issues for the snorer, resulting in bigger problems than just a grumpy bedmate.

A Noisy Nuisance
Snoring is caused by an obstruction in airflow, usually in the throat. Normally when we breathe, air moves silently, but when the throat and soft palate relax just a bit too much, air forces the tissues to rub together and produce harsh, grating noises. Structural differences between people can account for some snoring; some people who have a long, soft palate, a large uvula, or intact adenoids are more prone to snoring, since their throats are naturally more obstructed. Temporarily blocked sinuses, caused by a cold or infection, can also be enough of an obstruction to cause temporary snoring that originates in the nose. Many allergy sufferers and those with chronic nasal congestion find that they snore more often when their sinuses are blocked. Snoring can also be caused by a deviated septum.


Relaxed muscles in the throat can contribute to intermittent snoring, too. In younger people, alcohol or sedatives can cause the relaxation, which depress the nervous system and slacken the throat and tongue. Even sleeping position can be a factor. Sleeping on the back is known to prompt the muscle relaxation that causes snoring more often than sleeping on the side or the stomach. Older people can be more prone to snoring as well, since decreased muscle tone is part of the aging process.


One of the largest causes of chronic snoring is sleep apnea. This condition results in such a severe airway constriction that the lack of oxygen causes the sleeper to wake up, often dozens of times a night. It affects men more often than women, and is found more often in people who are overweight.


Harsh Consequences of Harsh Sounds
Besides a tired and cranky partner, snoring can cause health problems. Especially in conjunction with sleep apnea, snoring can lead to sleep loss or even sleep deprivation. Long-term obstruction of the airways can lead to low blood oxygen levels, which in turn leads to increased blood pressure as the heart pumps more to compensate. All of these result in daytime drowsiness, inability to concentrate, memory loss, and depression. Another consequence of sleep apnea is enlargement of the heart, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. Men with sleep apnea are also more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.


Along with being detrimental to health, chronic snoring can also take its toll on relationships. Many couples choose to sleep in separate beds in order to escape one person’s snoring. The noise is involuntary, but it’s hard for the non-snoring partner not to become upset and resentful at being kept awake. Trying to deal with chronic snoring can leave both parties exhausted, irritable, and reluctant to communicate.


Taking Back the Night
Besides a swift jab of the elbow, there are simple lifestyle changes that can reduce chronic snoring. Since much snoring occurs when we sleep on our backs, learning to sleep on your side can help. Some swear by an easy home remedy of sewing tennis balls to the back of a snorer’s pajamas to prevent them from rolling over onto their backs in the middle of the night. Limiting alcohol intake before bed can also help reduce muscle slackness in the throat. Since some people notice that they snore less if they sleep with their head elevated, many people put a wedge underneath their mattress to lift their head while they sleep. About four inches higher is enough to produce a noticeable result.


One major way to combat snoring is to lose weight, since being overweight contributes to all the snoring risk factors. Otolaryngologists recommend losing about 10 percent of your body weight to help reduce snoring, although even ten pounds can make a difference. For those whose snoring is triggered by congestion, breathing steam before bed or using decongestant sprays can help alleviate blocked sinuses and open the airways. Some people swear by Breathe Right nasal strips to help keep the nasal air passages open, although they work best on snoring that originates in the nose.


If lifestyle changes don’t help the problem, then a trip to the doctor may be in order. Mouth guards and devices worn at night can help keep the throat in a position that won’t cause snoring. There are also surgical and medical solutions to snoring, especially for snoring that’s caused by structural abnormalities. Deviated septums can be repaired to make breathing easier. A procedure called an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty can trim and tighten the slackened tissues of the throat, and many other procedures modify the structure of the tongue, throat, larynx, or nose. Even removing tonsils or adenoids can improve snoring. Sufferers of extreme sleep apnea may be fitted with a facial mask that forces air through the airway without allowing the soft palate to collapse.


Snoring may seem like a harmless annoyance, but for the sake of both the snorer and their partner, it’s worth trying to eliminate. Most snoring never progresses to needing surgery or expensive medical gadgets, and lifestyle adjustments can be enough to save everyone’s sanity. Lose a few pounds, cut out the nightly cocktail, and if all else fails, buy earplugs.

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